Thursday, June 28, 2012

Life in a thatched-roof cottage

Home Sweet Home
When I moved to the UK five months ago, I found myself in the strange situation of living in a house older than my country of origin. As in, older than the United States itself. Probably. We're not sure exactly how old the cottage is, but a pamphlet I picked up from our town's church--itself more than 800 years old (!!)--estimates that the "old thatched cottages left in Longcot, and other houses, such as farms...are probably three hundred years old." Longcot is the quaint little village we live in, less than five hundred people in all.

Like something out of a postcard or travel magazine, the cottage has smooth white-washed stone walls, topped by a heap of thatch. The cottage's spacious green lawn and overgrown garden are enclosed by a crumbling ivy-draped stone wall, probably of a similar age to the house. The singular cottage building has been chopped into three separate units, and on our neighbor's cottage you can see what the original brickwork looked like, with red brick and sandy stone. 
Cottages divided, and our neighbor's front door.
Ivy-draped stone wall
Wisteria vine over the living room window
I was thrilled to move in. I pictured home-baked pies cooling on the windowsill, drinking tea in front of the fire, and little songbirds helping me with the chores, ala Snow White. The reality of the situation has somewhat tempered my enthusiasm. With old houses come a sacrifice of certain modern amenities. Central heating system? Hah! It stays cold all the time, even when we have the odd warm summer day. When we do light a fire, the smoke lingers for days. Cracks in the ancient baseboard (foundation? bottom part of the wall? whatever it's called?) let in little creepy crawly spiders, ants, and pillbugs. We have to wage constant war with the vacuum (or hoover, as the Brits say).

The cottage's heavy stone walls are more than a foot thick, and the deep-set windows don't let in much light. Even at the height of summer, when it stays light until 10pm, the front rooms of the cottage remain a bit dreary. This is unfortunate because in England, every ray of sunshine is precious. The cloud close in quickly!

The low doorways are a hazard to tall people. For perspective, this is my Dad from the family's visit some weeks ago; he's 6'3'. Chris and I, at 6'1 and 5'10 apiece, have cracked our skulls more times than I can count (or maybe that's a sign of memory loss? Uh-oh...).
The Spiral Staircase of Doom

To get upstairs to our bedroom, there is a narrow spiral staircase of iron. It's difficult to maneuver in the best of times, and I'm always peppered with little bruises on my knees, hips, elbows, and shins.
Pretty ironwork, though!

The bane of our existence, though, is the fact that the lone bathroom is located downstairs. If nature calls in the middle of the night, you not only have to navigate the low doorways and the Spiral Staircase of Doom, you have to do it in the dark. The electrical wiring is eccentric, and whenever the upstairs overhead lights are turned on, it trips the fuse throughout the whole house. Honestly, the whole situation is a deathtrap. It's a miracle neither of us has gotten a concussion (yet--knock on wood!)
We're moving to Portsmouth in less than two weeks, to a modern semi-detached house in a suburban housing development. It's a bittersweet move. I know that the move to modernity means a sacrifice in historical charm. But I'm really looking forward to being able to get up for the bathroom in the middle of the night without fearing for my life...

Ultimately, I'm glad to be able to say I've lived in a 300-year-old thatched roof cottage; they simply don't exist in the States, and I feel I've gotten a taste of what traditional British life must have been like for so many years (at least we have modern electrical appliances!) I can show pictures of the cottage to our future children and tell them, here's where your Dad and I lived before we got married. Here's where I got that dent in my forehead.

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